South Medford's Patrick Thibeault, left, runs away from Grants Pass defenders Ryan Miller (1) and Andrew Straw (10) during Friday's game.

Thibeault tears up GP

Patrick Thibeault has promised for weeks that the South Medford running game would have a breakout game at some point.

To think it would happen Friday night against a Grants Pass team ranked No. 1 in the Southwest Conference in total defense would have been ludicrous.

But fantasy turned into reality under the lights at Spiegelberg Stadium as Thibeault gashed the fifth-ranked Cavemen for a school-record 292 yards rushing on 29 carries to more than double his season total in a stunning 44-22 victory.

"I felt good tonight," said Thibeault, who entered Friday's game with only 198 yards rushing on 55 carries through six games. "I really can't say enough about the linemen; they worked so hard tonight and just kept pushing and pushing for me."

That push was evident from the get-go and caught the Cavemen (7-1, 2-1 SWC) off guard. Grants Pass was allowing an average of only 80 yards rushing and 215 yards overall entering the game, but Thibeault had 66 yards on the ground in the first quarter alone.

"At first we were a little surprised because they had shown a whole lot of passing, about 80-20 passing, on film," said GP defensive lineman Ben Hughes. "I think we were kinda playing on our heels for a little while there and it took us a little bit to get in the groove of things. That killed us in the end."

Thibeault's early yardage set up a 26-yard touchdown pass from A.J. Palazzolo to Mitch Singler for a 7-0 South lead, but the Cavemen answered back with a 39-yard hookup from Zach Morgan to Buddy Saxon to tie the game. The key play on GP's drive was when Morgan hit Dee Wiersma for an 11-yard gain on a fourth-and-nine play at midfield.

The Panthers (5-2, 2-1) were pinned deep at their own 14 on the ensuing series, but a 59-yard catch and run by E.J. Singler immediately turned things around. Thibeault then tucked in behind an E.J. Singler block for an 18-yard gain on a screen pass, and Mitch Singler capped the three-play drive with a 9-yard scoring reception from Palazzolo.

E.J. Singler did not come back out on the field after that, however, as the junior tight end/linebacker sustained a bruised left shoulder.

Instead of suffering a dip in play minus one of their leaders, the Panthers seemed to take it up a notch in his absence as they eventually led 24-7 at halftime and limited the Cavemen to 110 yards of total offense in the first half.

Grants Pass managed only 278 yards of total offense for the game, while South amassed a whopping 326 yards on the ground and 540 overall.

"I didn't think I was going to give up 44 points," said GP coach Tom Blanchard. "They whipped us. They ran the ball and threw it, and they did it without E.J. We got a thorough butt-kicking, and I hope that's the best game they can play. Because if it isn't, we may all be in a little bit of trouble."

Sam McLaughlin kicked a 39-yard field goal and scored on an 11-yard run to provide that 24-7 margin at halftime, and was one of many Panthers who stepped it up on Friday. Mitch Singler finished with 106 yards receiving on six catches, while defenders like D.J. Titus, Brett Wallan, John Adamson and Michael Harthun were all over the field.

"A lot of different guys made plays tonight, and that's why it's a team victory all the way around," said South coach Bill Singler, who coached from the sideline instead of the coaches' box atop the grandstand because of a faulty headset. "This was a big win for us."

Friday's win allowed the Panthers to gain their seventh win over Grants Pass in the past eight years, and instantly made a mess of the SWC standings. Sheldon is in first place at 3-0 in league, with South Medford, Grants Pass and Roseburg all nipping on the Irish's heels at 2-1. The Panthers and Indians square off next Friday, while Sheldon travels to face the Cavemen.

"Next week I won't even remember the score of this game," assured Thibeault. "We'll just be looking to Roseburg and that's it."

To GP's credit, the Cavemen fought back in the second half with the two more scoring strikes from Morgan to Saxon, sandwiched around a 62-yard scoring run by Thibeault, to make it 30-22 with 4:10 to go in the third quarter.

But South's defense stiffened from there, as Harthun intercepted a Morgan pass at the Panther 15 to halt a potential game-tying drive by the Cavemen. Thibeault's one low point of the night came when he fumbled after a 9-yard gain from the GP 24, but South regained the ball when it forced a fumble by Criss Bowen and Harthun eventually fell on the ball at the Caveman 1-yard line.

McLaughlin took it over from there to give South a 37-22 lead with 4:52 to play, and Cameron Kynard essentially sealed the game moment's later with another interception.

Thibeault followed with a 56-yard touchdown run to send the Panther faithful into a frenzy — and put his name in the South record books. The previous record was 273 yards rushing by Corey Falls set against Ashland in 1990.

"It's a pretty special feeling," the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior said of his name soon being added to the list of records in the Panther locker room. "That (record) board is filled with a bunch of notable, awesome South Medford players. Just to be up there with those guys is amazing."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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